The takeaway from last night's Community Forum on the California Office to Reform Education NCLB Waiver was that this waiver, and the commission that oversees it, strike at the heart of local control and local democracy. Process is important--it's not just something that career bureaucrats like to follow. It's the democratic process that was ignored and undermined by this waiver. Until last night there was no public hearing on the waiver, no school board discussion and certainly no board vote on whether the district should participate.
The waiver ranks and targets school s that are low performing--and no surprise, that's where the students living in poverty attend school. Schools that don't bring up test scores within two years face sanctions that include closure or conversion to charter schools. While the state of California will have a moratorium on testing as it prepares for the new state standards, the CORE waiver districts will have even more testing across all subjects. Teachers will be evaluated by test scores and can be dismissed if they fail to bring scores up. The waiver pairs low performing schools with high performing schools across the state, and requires teachers to travel monthly between them to learn from their high performing colleagues. This travel and the expense of hiring substitute teachers uses the district Title 1 funds that have been freed up by the waiver, which brings in no new money. It will also require new administrators and contracts with expensive consultants who will "help" bring up test scores. In fact, the cost of complying with the waiver will be paid for from the district's general fund. Sac City Unified is one of the few districts in the area that still has a qualified financial rating and is still laying off teachers. It can't afford this waiver.
As one speaker said the waiver is a cynical attempt by its authors to use children as profit centers, especially since the per pupil spending is going to increase by thousands of dollars under the new state funding formula. The waiver was developed in part by Baine Capital which is a private equity fund interested in investing in education sector opportunities. The prospect of lots of new privately operated charter schools in the district no doubt has many education profiteers excited. Local politicians Sacramento City Councilmember Jay Schenirer and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Calbaldon played a major part in the waiver through their education consulting firm Capitol Impact and stand to make money as their firm helps administer the waiver. There is another probable reason former Supt. Raymond signed this waiver, and why Raymond falsely asserted that meetings had been held with SCTA about the waiver. Sacramento city teachers contract are up for renewal. The waiver can be used as a bargaining chip in contact negotiations. Raymond is gone but his feud with the district teachers union lives on.
The waiver will not only have a negative effect on the stability of the district's schools and staff, it will have a detrimental effect on local control of the district. The waiver is administrated by a 14 member commission that no one elected. The appointed members are representatives of various special interest groups across the state. They will decide whether districts are in compliance with the waiver, and can direct districts to abide by the provisions and sanctions prescribed by the waiver. They meet only twice a year and don't have to comply with open meeting laws, in spite of the fact that they are directing how school districts spend public dollars. The commission has no accountability to the taxpayers and parents of the district. It operates outside the authority of the California Department of Education.
If the undermining of local democracy and loss of local control of our school district has you worried about the CORE waiver you can take action. Contact the SCUSD school board. Urge them to put the waiver on the agenda for a future board meeting, so that a public discussion can be held. Tell them you don't want the waiver and its regimen of testing and more testing for our students. Tell them you don't want our education dollars wasted on travel and consultants. Most of all tell them you don't want our public schools closed and turned over to private charters.
The groups involved in organizing last night's forum are already planning for a parent centered informational forum and for a mass turn out when the waiver is finally on the school board's meeting agenda.
The link below will take you to the SCUSD Board of Education page: